Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol: A Guide for Parents

Drugs and alcohol are the dangers that can transform your kind, if sometimes difficult, teenager into a stranger you do not even recognize. It is hard to know exactly when to start talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol. Even if your kid seems innocent, peers can pressure your teen into just “trying” or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Even experimentation can lead to an addiction from which your teen could spend the best years of his or her life recovering. If you believe that your teen may have gotten involved with these substances, talk to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Having a preventive discussion is also worthwhile to make your teen aware of the potential consequences of alcohol and drug experimentation.

Smoking and Tobacco

Smoking may look cool on TV, but the side effects are anything but. Yellowed teeth, bad breath, premature wrinkles, and the suffocating stench of smoke that permeates the air around smokers will quickly take a toll on your teen’s popularity. Athletes will experience decreased performance playing their favorite sport as cigarette smoking reduces their lung capacity. More than 480,000 people die each year in the United States from causes related to cigarette smoking.

The risk of developing COPD, lung cancer, or emphysema does not dissuade people from smoking once they have become addicted. Cigarette smoking is an extremely hard habit to break once started. A desperate attempt to fit in could become a nervous habit to handle stress or social pressure then develop into a quasi-permanent addiction. An American is more likely to die from a smoking-related illness than from a firearms incident or a car accident.

If you smoke cigarettes, quit to set a good example for your teen. It may be hard, but your teen will be inspired by your struggle and will begin to truly understand how much of a hold cigarettes can have on someone once addicted. You will demonstrate the importance of prioritizing your health.


In our society, drinking alcohol is normal. The drinking age is 21, but many teens start drinking socially at parties well before then. Alcohol is not innocuous. It is dangerous for many reasons. Alcohol is more abused than other drugs. It can negatively enhance your teen’s existing behaviors and make your teen a danger to others. Your teen is more likely to act aggressively and with reduced impulse control under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol puts your teen at risk for sexual assault because of your teen’s inability to properly consent. Between the ages of 15-24, your teen or young adult is more likely to die from an alcohol-induced car accident than from any other cause of death. Alcohol impairs your teen’s judgment.

Long-term alcohol abuse causes damage to the liver. It also strains the heart muscles and increases the likelihood of developing cancer later in life. Your teen may not even realize that there is a problem. Drinking regularly at parties becomes an addiction when your teen needs alcohol to relax. If your teen’s day is not complete without consuming some form of alcohol, your teen should seek help. Taking the lead will show your teen how to deal with alcohol. Avoid joking about alcohol. Analyze your family events. Does every fun event involve drinking? Your teen should know that it is possible to have a good time and let loose without alcohol. Do not invite your underage teen to drink with you because it sends the wrong message. Convey the seriousness of alcohol abuse.


Drugs are tricky. Addicts will do anything to continue to abuse drugs, so they will start lying and manipulating you. Parents are often late to realize that a teen is using drugs because the teen can come up with convincing lies and plausible explanations that shift the focus away from the addiction. The side effects of drug addiction are not just physical. Your teen may start losing weight. Academic performance may suffer. Three drugs that your teen may experiment with are marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Many states have started to legalize marijuana. Popular culture conveys the idea that marijuana is a harmless drug that makes people more chill and relaxed. This is not true.

One out of every six teenagers who uses marijuana before the age of 18 will become addicted according to the CDC. Addicted teenagers are unable to quit smoking marijuana, even when they want to. They might skip family events to go out and smoke. Marijuana is a gateway drug. A gateway drug is a drug that paves the way to other, more addictive drugs.

Heroin use is also increasing nationwide. It is very easy to overdose from heroin and other opioids. Symptoms of an overdose include slowed breathing and death. Your teen may be using heroin if they always wear long sleeves, even in hot weather, and you start finding syringes around the house. Other signs of drug use include missing prescription pills or stolen valuables. Abusing heroin over the long term gradually causes almost irreversible changes to the brain’s neurology and the body’s hormonal reactions. The risk of overdose is more pronounced as the addict builds up a tolerance to the drug.

Cocaine is another very dangerous drug. It is often taken at parties because it is a stimulant that makes teens feel more alert and confident. Since cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain, it messes with the brain’s reward system. Your teen will need more and more cocaine to get the same high. Cocaine has the highest rate of emergency room admissions than any other drug. The nasal cavity can become inflamed with repeated cocaine sniffing, leading to nosebleeds and other respiratory problems. Your teen may also damage the cardiovascular system by using cocaine.

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